By Fatma Emam
An Egyptian TV anchor says: “The elected Egyptian president Mohamed Morsy is attending the African Union’s 19th Presidents Summit”. What are the connotations of this piece of news in the present Egyptian context?
This is Morsy’s first African exposure and his second international exposure after visiting Saudi Arabia. This information could have been analyzed in the media outlets, stressing how were the first steps of the post revolution president and his relation with his regional contexts, both Arab and the African. Do these visits have contentions?
Attending the African Union summit is a regular behaviour of Egypt, to claim its presence as an African power, to use the summit as a chance to enhance its regional role in the mother continent, and to solve some of the endless disputes with the African counter parts. Attending the summits and even belonging to sub regional entities like COMESA show that Egypt is keen to interact with its African environment for political and economic reasons.
However, in this critical time of the course of Egyptian history, I do not see Morsy’s visit to Addis Abba as a political move separated from other elements shaping the Egyptian political scene; In this regard I would love to note that the draft of the Egyptian constitution suggests in its first article that Egypt is “Islamic” and “Arab” and is “related” to Africa. And this takes the dialogue to a different level; it is not only about political relations with African states and races for possessing regional leadership. The phrases suggested in the constitutional article are starting an “identity “debate in Egypt.
Identity politics is a daily dialogue amongst Egyptians, even if they do not name it with this name. The mottos of “Islam is the Solution” and “Quran is our Constitution” of the Islamist movements in general and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular, is echoed in the public debates .The fierce fights for including Sharia’ in the constitution is a manifestation of the identity politics game, as they want to ensure and declare that Sharia is Egypt’s “fundamental and primary ” reference and they are abiding by the Islamic law.
Islamists are negating the fact that Sharia was already there in the Egyptian jurisprudence, in various ways, either by stating it clearly as “the” source of the legislations as stipulated in the Constitution of 1971 or through its entrenchment in the legal practice of the judiciary and the legislative bodies in Egypt. So it is obvious that it is not a new debate; Islamists want to appear as if they are the political actors who will introduce a new alternative to the “westernized secular legal regime” and they will introduce Islam as a governing system to Egypt of the Muslim majority. It is an endeavor to stress that we are Muslim and Islam is articulated in our private sphere and also it is governing the public sphere.
And the other identity the draft is guarding is the “Arab”, and I think that being Arab is not a cultural or ethnic feature for all Egyptians like the Copts, Nubians and Tamazight (Berbers). Being an Arab rather is a very political affiliation of the state and it is related to the “claimed” leadership of Egypt in its “Arab” context, and it started with Nasser who tried to shape a new “identity” of Egypt after independence. And an observer can do a comparison to the manner of the 22 member states of the League of the Arab States that call themselves Arab in their official name or not. It differs according to the unique identity of each country; although they all have a common feature that they are Arab in identity or in culture, or by ethnicity or by language.
The identity politics in this suggested constitutional article is acknowledging the new affiliations of Egypt. It is not only choosing our allies and in which regional contexts Egypt will perform its political role and seek economic co-operation, but also it is shaping and declaring the identity of the second republic. And which culture and civilization will be the source of the Egyptian personality? It is obvious that there are levels of belonging, from the strongest, the most relevant to the weakest and the irrelevant. We Egyptian are Arab and in a wider circle, we are Islamic and then we have a “relation” with Africa. What is the nature of this relation, how do we articulate this relation with Africa and what are its manifestations? These are questions to be replied to by Egyptian decision makers and takers.
As for being “related” to Africa, I see this constitutional article and what it stipulated as a new indicator that Egypt’s relation to Africa is fading, and day after day we are losing our role in Africa and giving part of our share to other African powers. That was sun clear in the total Egyptian absence in Nifasha accords and other Sudanese affairs developments, and it was obvious that Qadafi is filling the gap of the Egyptian diplomats in the continent. And things escalated to a worse magnitude with the disputes with the Nile basin countries. After the news of Africa in the Egyptian newspapers talking about cooperation and ties between Egypt and fellow African nations, it shifted to talk about races to occupy the suggested permanent seat of Africa in the security council, or that Egypt is endorsing Bashir against the rest of Africa and refusing the “violation of the sovereignty”. If we traced the Egyptian relation with Africa after the independence, you will find the heroes of independence side to side with Nasser.
One may say why do we just “relate” to Africa; don’t we belong? This question is my own dilemma. Why do we choose parts of our identity to celebrate and other parts to hide and negate? Is Africa for Egypt the water of the Nile, the commercial treaties and a gate to the international representation only? No it is not; I am an African, I do relate to the Apartheid struggle, I do relate to the struggle against the blood diamonds, I marched against Human Rights violations in any corner of the mother continent. My struggle in Egypt, is a struggle against unified prescribed identity, militarization, fundamentalism, despotism, patriarchy andd corruption, and I support all my African sisters in the same trench, wherever they are in Africa.
Identities are not divine; they are products of history, tradition and culture.
I belong to Africa, I do not “relate” to Africa only.
Fatma Emam is Research Associate in Nazra for Feminist Studies, Egypt http://www.nazra.org